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Pro Bono Champion: Melissa Spence

South Carolina’s First Housing Court

June 2, 2020

Her day job is advising local businesses on issues involving state and federal employment laws. Outside of the office, she provides pro bono legal service for working men and women in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

In May of 2019, the Charleston County Housing Court became the first of its kind in the state. Spence has volunteered there since the beginning. The new court was established to specifically address evictions before three Charleston County Magistrate Courts. The program helps renters learn about their rights, and encourages open and honest communication between tenants and landlords.

Spence’s work in the housing court includes defending clients against unjust evictions, negotiating leases with landlords, and requesting extensions to help tenants catch up on rent payments.

“It can take years for a family to recover from the impact of an eviction. Helping a family find its footing and stop an out-of-control downward spiral helps sustain the North Charleston community I call home,” said Spence.

The South Carolina Supreme Court created the pilot program, after a 2018 Princeton University study found North Charleston had the highest eviction rate in the country. The Charleston Housing Court Pilot Project was launched through cooperation of attorneys Mary Vosburgh and Jeff Yungman with local homeless shelter One80 Place and attorneys from Charleston Legal Access, South Carolina Legal Services as well as Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services. The goal was simple: keep people in their homes.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in eviction filings is expected in the coming months as people struggle making ends meet. Spence has recruited other Nexsen Pruet attorneys and they have already taken a training course to be able to assist. If you are an attorney and would like to help, please contact Melissa Spence.

Nexsen Pruet is one of the largest law firms in the Carolinas, with more than 180 attorneys and offices in Columbia, Charleston, Greenville, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach, S.C., as well as Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh, N.C. Founded in 1945, Nexsen Pruet provides a broad range of legal services to the business community and represents companies and other entities in local, state, national and international venues.